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Overpopulation: An Overlooked Factor in Global Health

Overpopulation: An Overlooked Factor in Global Health.

Written by Brian Krans | Published on March 19, 2014
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New research suggests that population growth is driving numerous global health crises, yet it’s rarely factored into the equation.

Overpopulation Overlooked Factor Global Health

The world’s population currently stands at 7.15 billion people and has the potential to double in the next 50 years. In the U.S., there’s one birth every eight seconds and one death every 12 seconds.

With an ever-growing population on a finite earth, the issue of overpopulation should be a major concern when evaluating how we’ll be able to feed and care for the masses.

But it’s not.

Camilo Mora, an assistant professor of geography in the College of Social Sciences at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, reviewed nearly 200 research articles and found that population is being “downplayed and trivialized,” despite its biological impact and its fundamental role in human welfare.

In the U.S. alone, unintended pregnancies are responsible for $11 billion in public spendingeach year.

Pregnant? You’ll Want to Watch These Videos »

‘The Picture Isn’t Pretty’

Mora’s research, published in the journal Ecology and Society, suggests that major health crises won’t be fixed if researchers continue to ignore burgeoning birth rates and declining death rates.

“In a planet with limited resources and a sensitive climate, with most of its natural resources being overexploited and its economic systems overstressed, meeting the additional demands of a growing human population without destroying the Earth and our social systems will be one of the greatest tests to humanity in the years to come,” Mora concluded.

Doomsday scenarios aside, Mora said diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria will continue to spread, mainly through unsafe behaviors linked to overpopulation: high-risk sexual practices, a lack of access to contraception, and an increase in the number of sex workers.

In Africa, extreme poverty has forced many women into the “sex for fish” trade, in which they have sex with local fishermen in exchange for a portion of the daily catch. Because these woman have inadequate access to contraceptives and safer-sex tools, this practice increases the spread of HIV and makes unwanted pregnancies more likely.

“People are forced to do these things. There’s no way to dig people out of this kind of poverty,” Mora told Healthline. “When you get a perspective, the picture isn’t pretty.”

Learn About the Life Expectancy of an HIV Patient »

Is One Child Enough?

In his paper, Mora pointed to the case of former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has 22 grandchildren. If each of Romney’s children were to follow in his footsteps, he and his wife, Ann, would be responsible for creating 124 people in just four generations.

While the Romneys have the financial capacity to provide food, education, and healthcare for a flock as large as theirs, they are in the minority.

The average ideal family used to be 2.1 children: one to replace each parent and 0.1 to account for child mortality rates. Now that child mortality rates have dropped and medical advances have helped more people living longer, Mora suggests that the average family have only one child.

“Everything has to go down to women and how many children they have,” he says. “In some countries, that isn’t an option.”

With scientific literacy in the U.S. and other developed countries falling below 17 percent, few people consider the ramifications of their family size and the impact it has on earth’s future.

While one-child mandates may be perceived as fodder for science fiction—or as the practice of oppressive governments—Mora says changing social norms are the better way to go.

“People need to look at the total impact,” he says. “The more people you have, the fewer services you have to go around.”

Learn About the 10 Worst Disease Outbreaks in U.S. History»

Is the Earth overpopulated? » peoplesworld

Is the Earth overpopulated? » peoplesworld.

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Recently I’ve been facilitating two groups studying global warming. (I will send my annotated 10-book syllabus to anyone who asks for it). Our current discussions are based on Alan Weisman’s new book, “Countdown.”While the book contains statements indicating it is not so simple, Weisman’s main point is that overpopulation is at the core of our environmental problems.

I’ve also been reading Clive Ponting’s “A New Green History of the World.” Ponting concludes that: “The current environmental problems in the world can only be understood in the context of the nature of the world economy produced since 1500.”

At first glance these points of view appear to restate the old argument between Malthus and Marx. Malthus argued in 1798 that food production could never match population growth, and so, the masses were doomed to starvation. Marx, on the other hand, maintained that there would be enough for everyone if the earth’s resources were distributed fairly. He attacked Malthus for placing blame on the victims of capitalist exploitation rather than on the capitalists, who were the real culprits.

Raised by two sets of Old Left parents, and coming of age as a New Left Marxist, I initially rejected all claims that we could eliminate poverty and environmental damage through population control. However, in 1798 when Malthus first staked out his position, there were fewer than one billion people on the planet, and when Marx critiqued him there were no more than 1.5 billion. The world’s population has recently topped 7 billion, and is headed for nine or ten billion in the next several decades. Marx was right that when Malthus propounded his theory it was a self-serving defense of inequality, but since then, overpopulation has become a major problem.

I also agree with Ponting that the world’s current unequal distribution of resources is responsible for environmentally-devastating first world overconsumption and mass human suffering. But capitalism’s love affair with increasing population is a key part of the current global economy. More people equals more workers willing to work for less as they compete with each other. More consumers buy more, generating more profit. A system based on perpetual growth serves its principal beneficiaries when individuals consume more AND there are more individuals doing the consuming. Is it possible that Weisman and Ponting are both correct?

Seven billion people are way too many, and 10 billion will just hasten disaster. Weisman’s point is well-taken; we must and can bring down the population through universal education, and government assisted family planning programs, and doing so is a necessary condition of controlling global warming. Weisman, laments that all we lack is the political will to do so. He writes: “why [are] health decisions about Mother Nature … made by politicians, not by scientists who know how critical her condition is.” But as Ponting makes plain, the nature of our global economy means that politicians serving multinational corporate masters will continue to make such decisions. As long as the world’s economy is driven by competition, profit and growth, efforts to reduce substantially either our population or consumption will be ineffective.

It is not a question of one or the other. Both are essential and we must address them in conjunction.

This article originally appeared at the Robert Meeropol’s blog.

Photo: Tomonari Suzuoki CC

Survive Peak Oil: Oil and Gas: How Little Is Left

Survive Peak Oil: Oil and Gas: How Little Is Left.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Oil and Gas: How Little Is Left

“If we’re doing things like fracking, it just shows how little is left of all this stuff, and how desperate we are to get at it.” — Anonymous

Global production of conventional oil is past its peak and is now beginning its decline. A mixed bag of unconventional fuels (shale oil, tar-sands oil, natural-gas-liquids, etc.) is keeping the total on a slight rise or a rough plateau.

The hottest discussion in the US over the last few years has involved the fracturing (“fracking”) of shale to extract both oil and gas, but production by this method is already slowing or in decline. The costs of fracking are considerable, and so is the environmental damage.

The price of oil is still about $100 a barrel, far above that of the 1990s, in terms of both nominal and real dollars. The failure of the price to go down is an embarrassment to those who think unconventional oil is really solving any problems. But the high price is due not just to increased demand or to geopolitical risk. It is because of trying to squeeze oil out of places where it makes little sense to be squeezing.

The following data are “annual” and “global” and are from BP’s 2013 report unless described otherwise.

Laherrère: “The plots of these data start flattening in 2005, followed by a bumpy plateau. The post-2010 increase is mainly caused by the increase of liquids from US shale gas and US shale oil.”

Hughes: “. . . Politicians and industry leaders alike now hail ‘one hundred years of gas’ and anticipate the U.S. regaining its crown as the world’s foremost oil producer. . . . The much-heralded reduction of oil imports in the past few years has in fact been just as much a story of reduced consumption, primarily related to the Great Recession, as it has been a story of increased production.”

RATE OF SUPPLY; NET ENERGY

Hughes: “The metric most commonly cited to suggest a new age of fossil fuels is the estimate of in situ unconventional resources and the purported fraction that can be recovered. These estimates are then divided by current consumption rates to produce many decades or centuries of future consumption. In fact, two other metrics are critically important in determining the viability of an energy resource:

“• The rate of energy supply — that is, the rate at which the resource can be produced. A large in situ resource does society little good if it cannot be produced consistently and in large enough quantities. . . . Tar sands . . . have yielded production of less than two percent of world oil requirements.

“• The net energy yield of the resource. . . . The net energy . . . of unconventional resources is generally much lower than for conventional resources. . . .”

GLOBAL OIL PRODUCTION

For conventional oil, the peak annual global production was about 27 billion barrels, or about 73 million barrels per day. The peak date of production was about 2010.

BP shows global oil production still increasing in 2012, although much more slowly than before — an annual increase of about 1 percent between 2002 and 2012, as opposed to about 9 percent annually between 1930 and 2001. Laherrère’s Figure 10, on the other hand, shows an actual peak at 2010. The difference is due to the fact that the BP figures include unconventional oil (shale oil, tar-sands oil, natural-gas-liquids, etc.).

According to most studies, the likely average rate of decline of oil production after the peak date is about 3 or 4 percent, resulting in a fall from peak production to half that amount about 20 years after the peak. However, there is also evidence (Höök et al., June 2009; Simmons, 2006) to suggest that the decline rate might be closer to 6 percent, i.e. reaching the halfway point about 10 years after the peak.

Per capita, the peak date of oil production was 1979, when there were 5.5 barrels of oil per person annually, as opposed to 4.4 in 2012.

Laherrère: “The confidential technical data on [mean values of proven + probable reserves] is only available from expensive and very large scout databases. . . .

“There is a huge difference between the political/financial proved reserves [so-called], and the confidential technical [proven + probable] reserves. Most economists do not believe in peak oil. They rely only on the proved reserves coming from [the Oil and Gas Journal, the US Energy Information Administration], BP and OPEC data, which are wrong; they have no access to the confidential technical data. . . .

“The last [International Energy Agency] forecasts report an increase in oil production from 2012 to 2018 of 8% for Non-OPEC (+30% for the US) and of 7% for OPEC, which is doubtful. . . .”

US OIL PRODUCTION peaked in 1970 at 9,637 thousand barrels daily, declined in 2008 to 5,000, and rose in 2013 to 6,488.

NATURAL GAS PRODUCTION

GLOBAL GAS PRODUCTION rose from 2,524 billion cubic meters in 2002 to 3,370 billion cubic meters (95 trillion cubic feet) in 2012, an average annual increase of 3%.

Laherrère: “. . . [Global] production will peak around 2020 at more than [100 trillion cubic feet per year].” [emphasis added]

“Outside the US, the potential of shale gas is very uncertain because the ‘Not In My Back Yard’ effect is much stronger when the gas belongs to the country and not to the landowners. . . . Up to now, there is no example of economical shale gas production outside the US. The hype on shale gas will probably fall like the hype on bio-fuels a few years ago. . . .

US GAS PRODUCTION rose from 536 billion cubic meters in 2002 to 681 in 2012, an average annual increase of 2.5%.

Laherrère: “Natural gas production in the US, which peaked in 1970 like oil, is showing a sharp increase since 2005 because of shale gas. In 2011 unconventional gas production ([coal bed methane], tight gas and shale gas . . . .) was higher than conventional gas production . . . .

This . . . leads to a peak in 2020 at 22 [trillion cubic feet] and the decline thereafter of all natural gas in the US . . . should be quite sharp. [emphasis added] The goal of exporting US liquefied natural gas seems to be based on very optimistic views. . . .

“The gross monthly natural gas production in the US has been flat since October of 2011, after its sharp increase since 2003, with only shale gas production rising. . . .” [emphasis added]

“Some claim that the US can export its shale gas as [liquid natural gas] even though conventional gas . . . is declining fast and will be quite small in just a few years.”

Hughes: “Shale gas production has grown explosively to account for nearly 40 percent of U.S. natural gas production; nevertheless production has been on a plateau since December 2011. . . . The very high decline rates of shale gas wells require continuous inputs of capital — estimated at $42 billion per year. . . . In comparison, the value of shale gas produced in 2012 was just $32.5 billion.”

TIGHT OIL (SHALE OIL) PRODUCTION

Laherrère: “Shale oil is now called light tight oil because the production in Bakken is not from a shale reservoir, but a sandy dolomite reservoir between two shale formations. . . . In Montana, production from Bakken is mainly coming from the stratigraphic field called Elm Coulee, which is decline since 2008. In North Dakota, production from Bakken has sharply increased.”

Hughes: “Tight oil production has grown impressively and now makes up about 20 percent of U.S. oil production. . . .More than 80 percent of tight oil production is from two unique plays: the Bakken in North Dakota and Montana and the Eagle Ford in southern Texas. . . . Tight oil plays are characterized by high decline rates. . . . Tight oil production is projected to grow substantially from current levels to a peak in 2017. . . . [emphasis added]

TAR-SANDS OIL PRODUCTION

Hughes: “Tar sands oil is primarily imported to the U.S. from Canada. . . It is low-net-energy oil, requiring very high levels of capital inputs (with some estimates of over $100 per barrel required for mining with upgrading in Canada). . . . The economics of much of the vast purported remaining extractable resources are increasingly questionable. . . .

NATURAL GAS PLANT LIQUIDS (NGPL) PRODUCTION

Laherrère: “World NGPL production . . . may peak in 2030 at over 11 [million barrels per day]. . . .”

OTHER RESOURCES

Hughes: “Other unconventional fossil fuel resources, such as oil shale [kerogen], coalbed methane, gas hydrates, and Arctic oil and gas — as well as technologies like coal- and gas-to-liquids, and in situ coal gasification — are also sometimes proclaimed to be the next great energy hope. But each of these is likely to be a small player. . . .

“Deepwater oil and gas production . . . would expand access to only relatively minor additional resources.”

CONCLUSIONS

Laherrère: “Peak oil deniers claim that peak oil is an unscientific theory, ignoring that peak oil has actually happened in several countries like France, UK, Norway. They confuse proved reserves with the [proven + probable] mean reserves. . . . It seems that world oil (all liquids) production will peak before 2020. . . The dream of the US becoming independent seems to be based on resources, but not on reserves.”

REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING

BP. (2013). Global statistical review of world energy. Retrieved fromhttp://www.bp.com/statisticalreview

Heinberg, R. (2013). Snake oil: How fracking’s false promise of plenty imperils our future. Santa Rosa, California: Post Carbon Institute.

Höök, M., Hirsch, R., & Aleklett, K. (2009, June). Giant oil field decline rates and their influence on world oil production. Energy Policy, Volume 37, Issue 6, pp. 2262-72. Retrieved fromhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2009.02.020

Hughes, J. D. (2013, Feb.) Drill, baby, drill; Can unconventional fuels usher in a new era of energy abundance? Executive Summary. Post Carbon Institute. Retrieved fromhttp://www.postcarbon.org/reports/DBD-report-FINAL.pdf 

Klare, M.T. (2012).The race for what’s left: The scramble for the world’s last resources. New York: Picador.

Laherrère, J. H. (2013, July 16). World oil and gas production forecasts up to 2100. The Oil Drum. Retrieved from www.theoildrum.com/node/10009

Simmons, M. R. (2006). Twilight in the desert: The coming Saudi oil shock and the world economy. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

Bill Ryerson: The Challenges Presented by Global Population Growth | Peak Prosperity

Bill Ryerson: The Challenges Presented by Global Population Growth | Peak Prosperity.

As we embark on a new year, it’s important to keep the really big elements of our global predicament squarely in mind. To that end, we’re surfacing this excellent discussion on population growth that Chris recorded in 2012 with Bill Ryerson of the Population Institute.

At the heart of the resource depletion story that we track here at PeakProsperity.com is the number of people on earth competing for those resources.

The global population is more than 7 billion now and headed to 9 billion by 2050. If world population continues its exponential growth, when we will hit planetary carrying capacity limits with our key resources (or are we already exceeding them)? What are the just, humane, and rights-respecting options that are on the table for balancing the world’s population with the ability of the earth to sustain it?

Population management is an inflammatory issue. It’s nearly impossible to discuss without triggering heated emotions, and rare is the leader who’s willing to raise it. And by going unaddressed globally, the risk of problems created by overpopluation grow unchecked. War, poverty, starvation, disease, inequality…the list goes on.

Which is why we feel we need to have the courage to address this very important topic directly. And to have an adult-sized conversation about these risks and what can done about them.

In this podcast, Chris talks with Bill Ryerson, founder and president of the Population Media Center as well as the president of the Population Institute. They explore the current forecasts for world population growth, the expected future demand on world resources, and the range of options available for bringing them into balance sustainably.

We are adding about 225,000 people to the dinner table every night who were not there last night. So that is net growth of the world’s population on an annual basis of a new Egypt every year. In other words, 83 million additional people net growth annually. And that, from a climate change perspective alone, is a huge increment. Most of this growth is occurring in poor countries, so on a per-capita level, the people being added to the population have much lower impact than, say, if Europe were growing at that rate. But nevertheless, just from a climate perspective, with most of that 83 million additional people in low per capita greenhouse-gas output countries – this is between now and 2050 – at this rate of growth, it is the climate equivalent of adding two United States to the planet.

Clearly resources like oil, coal, and gas are non-renewable and will eventually run out or become more and more expensive and therefore not reliable as a source of energy. But what is the renewable long-term sustainability or the carrying capacity of the environment in each geographic territory, and globally? What is the current and projected future human demand for those resources, and do we have sufficient natural resources to meet our needs?

Doing this kind of accounting is not difficult. There are very good robust scientific designs for measuring resource capacity and human demand, and projecting out what do we need to do in some time in the next few decades in order to get from what is clearly population overshoot to achieving something that is in balance. Because as long as we are in overshoot – and the global footprint network’s calculation is we are now at 50% overshoot –  that means we are digging into the savings account of our ecological systems, as you mentioned: the fisheries being one, forests being another. We are eating into the capital to sustain the growing population.

They also explore why population management is such a uniquely controversial topic. Not only are moral, civil, and religious beliefs in play, but the debate is also heavily influenced by large corporate and governmental organizations protecting their interests. So it’s no wonder that a calm, respectful, and reasonable conversation on population remains so elusive.

But we’re going to try to have one here.

Needless to say, our moderators are on high alert and will step in if they are needed. Thanks in advance for your conscientious, levelheaded, and respectful comments. We have the chance to do substantial thinking on some really meaty questions here. Let’s make good use of it.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with Bill Ryerson (46m:26s):

PODCAST

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